Despite being a pop-up store, The Dune Group’s new men’s footwear business in London’s West End has an air of permanence about it.
Two questions: what makes a pop-up shop a pop-up shop and why do women, en masse, have more shoes than men? The answer to the first is simple, or should be. It’s a store that is around for a short period of time, then closes. Sadly, there is no real answer to the second, it’s just the way it is.
Odd then, you might think, that a store called Chelsea Cobbler has just opened on London’s South Molton Street, which claims to be a pop-up shop, but whose lifespan is not absolutely determined and which sells just men’s footwear. Being about 1,500 sq ft, and relatively narrow, this is a shop that is long and deep and offers most shapes and styles of men’s footwear.
What is equally interesting is that it is owned by The Dune Group – which acquired the name when it rescued Shoe Studio Group from administration in the spring. Interesting because there is a branch of Dune on the other side of this pedestrianised thoroughfare, selling both men’s and women’s footwear.
There was, in fact, a Chelsea Cobbler store on Oxford Street until March, when Shoe Studio went into administration, and this pop-up store is planned to trade only early into the new year.
Yet according to John Mooney, head of visual merchandising and store development, a view may be taken beyond this on whether to continue trading in the premises and, if it
is successful, on a possible roll-out of the concept.
Key looks and merchandise
As this is a store with a lot of perimeter shelf space, as well as a fair tranche of mid-shop equipment, display space is in good supply. This means each of the many brands on offer has room to breathe.
The width of the offer is substantial when set against other men’s footwear offers in the West End. An entry range is provided by the Dune and Bertie brands with most prices below the £100 mark and with a pair of Bertie pointed shoes looking a bargain at £65. After that things head upwards, with names such as Loake, Firetrap, Barker and Pied a Terre in the £100-plus category.
The top end is provided by Oliver Sweeney and Jeffery-West. At these rarefied levels, shoppers should expect to part with more than £250 for a pair of boots.
As far as this season’s looks go, there are really only a couple of killer must-haves: ankle boots and pointed shoes. Chelsea Cobbler has plenty of both situated at the front of the store.
Further in, with a nod to the traditional formal customer, there are straightforward Oxford shoes and variations, boots of the Timberland outdoors variety, and, at the back, trainers, that are more for fun than sport. Displaying the merchandise by end use rather than brand is a departure from the norm.
If you walked into this store from the street, you’d probably have little idea that it is a pop-up: none of the usual visual clues are there. Many such stores work on the rough-luxe theme, where expensive stock is sold in a cut-price environment – and with a rough-and-ready approach to visual merchandising. No such thinking informs Chelsea Cobbler’s visual merchandising. Whether it’s the lasts suspended on pieces of string from the ceiling immediately inside the window, the leather footballs and cricket balls or the mini artists’ mannequins, this is a highly considered proposition.
Note also has to be made of the footwear shop equivalent of a changing room at the far end of the store. This takes the form of a rug, 1940s-style armchair and standard lamp with a pair of slippers parked next to the chair. You might expect Gromit to be asleep next to this scene. Masculine and understated.
There were three members of staff on duty and they were busy serving men who seemed to appear in pairs and then offer each other reassuring style tips. What was impressive was the speed at which the many pairs of shoes that were being test-driven were fetched from the stock room. In many footwear stores, selling is about disappearing into the stock room and then taking an interminably long time if several different styles are being tried on.
No such delays were evident in this store – it seemed to matter little whether it was one or 10 pairs that were being given the once-over. The other part of any retail transaction is the cash-taking. This was done quickly and efficiently and, more importantly, with a smile.
A long, single-floor store is always a little problematical. It means a narrow shop-front, decreasing a store’s high street shout. That said, there can be little doubting Chelsea Cobbler’s masculine proposition from the outside. The loden green frontage and simple floor-to-ceiling windows with display plinths that allow you to see deep into the interior, are an exercise in keeping things simple.
Walk inside and the ambience is clubbily traditional. Wooden floors are combined with walls formed on the right-hand side from stripped wood panels, while on the other, small green shelves are used as vehicles for single-style displays. The mid-shop has a simple wooden display cabinet that, by rights, should have a glass top to it. It does not and in its place are boots and bags.
South Molton Street is in the West End; quite a way from Chelsea and so, in what looks like an attempt to justify the name, there’s a wallpapered area at the back with an antique street map of the posh area near the river.
And then there’s the lighting. It’s difficult to object to a run of chromed anglepoise lamps positioned above the stock along the perimeter walls. The only thing is that they provide insufficient light for the rest of the store. To overcome this, there are relatively unattractive track spots on the ceiling.
But all in all, this is a store that smacks of permanence rather than pop-up.
Would I buy?
Almost did. Very taken by a pair of pointed black evening shoes – the brand is unimportant, but they were not cheap. Financial prudence, however, grabbed your correspondent by the throat.
A pop-up shop that looks and feels like nothing of the kind. This is a store that may well be around for considerably longer than originally planned. It’s certainly an improvement on the Bang & Olufsen store that preceded it.
Address South Molton Street, London W1
Opened Beginning of November
Anticipated lifetime Two to three months
Design features Chromed anglepoise lights, use of wood panels and the grandfather’s slippers vignette at the back of the shop
Transactional website www.chelseacobbler.com